Under Tolba's leadership, UNEP became a vital organization within the UN system, acting as the catalyst spurring governments, businesses, academia, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations to meaningful action. UNEP, one of the smallest members in the UN family, leveraged on average four times its modest budget to carry out more than a thousand projects. Mostafa Tolba diligently promoted his philosophy of "Development without Destruction". Its implications are clearly reflected in his speeches, books and in UNEP’s programmes, in many fields, and at many levels.
Among the many highlights of his career, the Vienna Convention and Montreal Protocol stand out as examples of his far-sighted and groundbreaking leadership.
Widely recognized as the most successful multilateral environmental agreement to date, the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer and its Montreal Protocol combined science, technology, finance and partnerships to enable the community of nations to phase out ozone depleting substances which had damaged the planet's vital ozone layer.
Remembering Tolba, the current UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said, "Dr. Tolba was a pioneer and 'man of the first hour!' Following the decision to establish UNEP's headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, Dr. Tolba joined Maurice Strong – the first Executive Director of UNEP – as Deputy Executive Director in 1973. Two years later member states appointed Dr. Tolba as Executive Director - a position he held for 17 years. During this period Dr. Tolba played a key role in developing the global environmental agenda and architecture that remains the foundation for environmental governance and diplomacy today."
"Dr. Tolba understood - both as a scientist and a citizen - that the world needed to evolve a new form of global environmental diplomacy – firmly rooted in science but cognizant of the different realities and responsibilities of developed and developing nations," he added.
Dr. Tolba published over 95 papers on plant diseases and more than 600 statements and articles on the environment. He received many awards and prizes from academic institutions, governments and non-governmental organizations in many countries. These include honorary doctorates, awards, medals, and high decorations. He cherished in particular the Doctor of Science degrees from Moscow State University and the University of Guadalajara, Mexico; the Fellowship of Imperial College, London; the Sasakawa Prize; the Only One Earth Award of the René Dubos Center; the Global Environment Award of the International Association for Impact Assessment; the Zayed International Prize; the Global Environment Leadership Award of the Global Environment Facility; the Distinguished International Service Award of the Regents of the University of Minnesota; high decorations from Hungary, Jordan, Morocco, Poland, Spain, USA, Yugoslavia, and the First Order Decoration of the Arab Republic of Egypt.
Dr. Mostafa Tolba was born in the town of Zifta, north of Cairo, in 1922. He graduated with first class honours from Cairo University in 1943, and obtained his Ph.D. from the Imperial College, London in 1948. He returned to Cairo to become Professor in the Faculty of Science at Cairo University, where he established his own school in microbiology. He was also a Professor of Baghdad University, 1954-1959.
Before joining UNEP, Tolba's work focused on the issue of stratospheric ozone layer depletion as meriting careful monitoring on the scientific front. In Vienna (1985), Montreal (1987) and later in London (1990), he managed to formulate the prototype model for dealing with global environmental issues and the effective mechanisms for the transfer of technology and funds to developing countries, as and when necessary, through the Vienna Convention and the Montreal Protocol.
After this distinguished academic career, Dr Tolba joined the Egyptian civil service as Under-secretary of State for Higher Education and Minister of Youth, and on the international scene, as an alternate member of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) Executive Board. He became the first president of the newly established Academy for Scientific Research and Technology in Cairo, in 1971.
In 1972, he led Egypt’s delegation to the Stockholm conference on the Human Environment, thus starting a lifetime commitment to environmental issues. Immediately after Stockholm he was nominated as Deputy Executive Director of the newly established United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). He then became the Executive Director – a post he held until retiring at the end of 1992.
Upon his return to Egypt in 1994, Dr. Tolba established the International Center for Environment and Development (ICED), a non-profit organization, financing environmental projects in less-developed countries through an endowment fund administered by an independent board of trustees. He was president of ECOPAST (Centre for Environment and Our Common Past) in Washington, D.C., which dealt with the impact of air pollution on cultural heritage. He was the also chairman of the Egyptian Consultants for Environment and Development (ECED).
Dr. Mostafa Tolba was born in the town of Zifta, north of Cairo, in 1922. He graduated with first class honours from Cairo University in 1943, and obtained his Ph.D. from the Imperial College, London in 1948. He returned to Cairo to become Professor in the Faculty of Science, Cairo University, where he established his own school in microbiology and is currently Emeritus Professor. He was also Professor in Baghdad University, 1954-1959.